As RSV rages, ODH encourages vaccination to unburden healthcare system


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Department of Health officials say that Ohio is facing a “triple threat” of RSV, influenza and COVID, and their message to Ohioans is to get vaccinated for flu and COVID-19 to protect themselves and others and to reduce the burden on the state’s healthcare system, Ohio Department of Health officials said during a news conference Tuesday.

Ohio is seeing a rise in cases of RSV, a respiratory virus that is particularly risky for children, that is in line with rises in the rest of the country, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Director of the Ohio Department of Health.

RSV has cold-like symptoms, and parents of young children should be on alert for deceased appetite, sleepiness or lethargy, and wheezing or trouble breathing in their children, said Dr. Patti Manning, Chief of Staff at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“Particularly for babies under six months of age with RSV or suspected RSV, we want to watch those three things very carefully,” Manning said. “We want to watch how they eat and drink. Are they making wet diapers? We want to watch how awake they are or are they easy to wake up and we want to watch how they breathe. If they’re breathing very quickly, if they’re using their muscles to breathe, their neck muscles or their stomach muscles or their rib muscles to breathe, then we’re very worried and we want you to bring them to seek emergency care.”

A temperature of 100.4 or above is a very significant concern, Vanderhoff said, and parents should contact their medical provider promptly if their child has a fever this high.

RSV is spread through respiratory droplets that may settle on household items, tables, and door knobs, and can be contracted by touching these surfaces then yourself before washing your hands, Vanderhoff said.

While most people do not need to go to the emergency room for RSV, young children, older adults, and those who are immunocompromised are at risk for hospitalization from the virus, he said.

There is no vaccine for RSV, and while there have been encouraging clinical trials, nothing has been approved yet or will be approved this season. Vanderhoff said the best way to prevent the spread of RSV is to keep sick children home from childcare centers and school.

“If your child has a fever, if they have obvious cough, cold symptoms, if they have a runny nose — and we know the kids aren’t the greatest at keeping their hands clean and blowing their nose — then we do want you to keep them home from school and home from daycare, because that’s going to stop the spread to other children as well as help your child get healthy more quickly,” Manning said.

While other parts of the country are beginning to see RSV cases level off and decrease, the continued rise of RSV cases in Ohio comes as there is a significant increase in flu cases in Ohio.

There have already been a few pediatric flu deaths in the U.S., including one in the Cleveland area, which serves as a reminder that the flu can be deadly and not something to be taken lightly.

RELATED: Cuyahoga County reports first influenza death in 13-year-old boy

This year’s flu vaccine is a good match to the strains of influenza that have been circulating this year, said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

Children can get the flu shot and are encouraged to do so, Hoyen said, as the CDC realized a year ago how important it was to vaccinate children against the flu, as they are big drivers of the spread of the disease.

It’s hard for people to realize, but we do see children die of the flu,” Hoyen said. “And again, this is really a vaccine-preventable disease. And so we want to be doing everything that we can to protect our children and ourselves.”

Hoyen also encouraged Ohioans to get the COVID-19 booster as we move through the season, as it is effective against the new variants that are taking hold. As the waves of RSV and flu die down, that opens up space for the COVID variants to take hold, Hoyen said.

Vanderhoff, Hoyen, and the other medical professionals who spoke during Tuesday’s news conference all echoed the same sentiment: get the flu shot and COVID booster, not only to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community, but also the healthcare system as a whole.

All hospital systems in Ohio are experiencing high volumes in their emergency departments, ICUs, and other departments due to hospitalizations from RSV, flu, and COVID, Vanderhoff said.

“Right now, most especially in our children’s hospitals, their emergency departments, urgent care centers, and primary care offices are all experiencing very high patient volumes,” Vanderhoff said. “Now, this, of course, also leads to unusually long wait times for their patients.”

While they are taking steps to optimize care delivery, including expanding primary care networks and postponing operations and procedures that can be postponed, this busy season is still taking its toll on healthcare staff.

“Our staff are tired,” Hoyen said. “It’s been a long three years and we need to do what we can as residents in Ohio to protect our health care system here in Ohio so that if somebody is in a car accident if somebody develops cancer, we have room in our hospitals to take care of those patients.”

Health officials want communities to be prepared with the highest level of immunity so that the spread is lessened and fewer people develop severe illnesses requiring hospitalization.

Hoyen said getting vaccinated is “an important thing that we can all do to not only protect ourselves, protect others in the state and those that we love — friends and family around us — but also to protect our health care system so that if we develop other medical diseases and problems, that there will be room for us to be taken care of with quality care.”

Watch a livestream of the news conference in the video player below:

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Dr. Rustin Morse, Dr. Patty Manning-Courtney and Dr. Claudia Hoyen were in attendance.

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